As I write this article it seems as though winter is here for good. There is snow and there is cold. I closed up the owl nets and put them away for the season mid-week knowing that the last half of the week was going to be unsuitable weather for owling anyways. With the owl nets away the 2017 LSLBO field season is officially over. The owl season ended with 94 banded saw-whet owls, one recaptured saw-whet and two flying squirrels. No boreal owls were captured this year and the resident barred owls were very scarce. Normally I hear the barred owls calling a couple nights a week, this fall I heard them on only three nights in total. Interestingly I also didn’t see very many white-tailed deer; typically I have a few that hang around every single night in October, this year I saw some about on only around 4 or 5 nights. I have no idea if a person could correlate deer presence with owl presence; I sure won’t try. Other wildlife observed this owl season for anyone who is interested in what I see while skulking around in the bush at night: three bears, one marten, and several snowshoes hares and bats. Coyotes were another notable absence this fall.
Northern saw-whet owl
Overall 2017 was a bit of a slow season. Spring migration was fair, only slightly below average. Our summer breeding program, MAPS, was actually slightly above average. Fall migration was significantly below average and owl banding fell about dozen birds shy of the norm. Much of this year’s lack of success can be attributed to weather. August, September and October were far windier than they were any other year in the last ten. I would be curious to know if this year was just an anomaly or if the future holds increasingly windy conditions as the climate changes. Time will tell on that I suppose.
With winter here, that does not mean birding needs to end. Winter is a great time to take up birding as there are fewer species around making it easier to learn to identify them. Many winter bird species will also visit feeders, which is wonderful for observing them. If you want to attract birds to your yard this winter put out a selection of feeders. Tube feeders containing niger seeds will attract siskin, redpoll and other possibly even a house finch. Platform feeders or house-style feeders filled with black-oil sunflower seeds will attract both the pine and evening grosbeak, chickadee, junco, jay, and woodpeckers. Suet feeders hung from the trees will bring in birds like creepers, nuthatch, and woodpeckers.
The most important thing about attracting birds to your yard is to make sure you are not attracting them to danger. Winter is a very hard time for birds and many will spend a lot of time on the ground foraging for food. On the ground they are extra vulnerable to predation by cats. Cats are not native to this area and birds are not adapted to deal with them as predators. Cats kill over 2 billion birds in Canada every year which is more than window strikes, vehicle collisions, windmills and powerlines put together. Don’t let the birds in your yard add to that grisly statistic.
With that, I wish you all a wonderful winter and happy birding! Enjoy the hundreds of bohemian waxwings that have descended on town early this year to feast on the fruiting trees. Also, if you are interested in joining us December 16 for the Christmas Bird Count, give the Boreal Centre a shout (780 849 8240), we would love to have you out!